Sorry folks, no 10 tips for “just believing in yourself!” today. It’s time to get real. Every once in a while current events spark a fire in me that cause me to go on these serious rants. They remind me of one of the main reasons I started sharing my ideas in the first place.
Since a very young age, I’ve always felt something was off about the societal script. I can’t remember how many times I’d question what was being told to me in the classroom. There were only a handful of times where my questioning was welcomed by the teacher (you know because traditional education is a sham and many of its educators are totally indoctrinated).
I’d look at the way people lived and it made no sense to me. I could tell they were doing things they really didn’t want to do, yet were still doing them anyway. Then they told me that I, too, was supposed to do the same thing.s So many people appear to be nothing more than walking mascots for propaganda. Stockholm syndrome permeates society. People defend their captors and make you out to be the crazy one for disagreeing with the narrative.
I’m not ‘enlightened.’ I can be a dilettante. I often provide armchair analysis based on things I don’t fully understand using little rules of thumb and mental models I’ve learned over time. I’m aware that my beliefs are programmed into me as well. I guess I’m just trying to find the best mosaic of pre-established narratives to get somewhere close to rational, objective, and independent thought. I don’t know if it’s possible, but I’m trying.
I do, however, know that many people are totally brainwashed. I don’t even have some strategy to fix them. It just seems important to point them out. Here are some of the signs.
It’s gotten to the point that I can guess someone’s political views just by looking at them. If I can guess one or two of their views, I can probably guess all of them. Many people in today’s society are not ideologues. An ideologue is someone who lives by a certain set of principles that happen to fall along with one side, another, or a combination of both. They might not be right, but they at least have reasons.
Many people in today’s society are team players. It doesn’t matter what their team does or believes. Hell, it doesn’t even matter if the beliefs within the team itself contradict one another. Only tribalist dedication could allow someone to create such mental pretzels in their own minds. It wouldn’t make sense that one team’s stances are one hundred percent right and another one’s stances are one hundred percent wrong. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
This makes sense, though. Human beings are naturally tribal animals. Throw in social media feeds that tell you only what you want to hear and the problem gets even worse. What bothers me isn’t so much that the teams disagree with each other, it’s that they can’t even comprehend how other people could arrive at different conclusions.
If you can’t argue the other side with some level of objectivity and think they’re just evil or stupid, well, my friend, you might be brainwashed. The remedy for fighting confirmation bias is hard — try to disconfirm things you deeply believe. It’s hard for me. I remember one time reading an article I disagreed with and my eyes literally skipped past information I disagreed with. But I try. It’s worth it to try.
Nietzche once famously said that ‘God is Dead.’ I’m not here to argue about the merits of religion, but it’s important to understand that human beings are religious animals. In the absence of traditional religion, something else has to fill that void. The hope was that people would be able to create their own quasi-secular humanist belief systems that kept the baby but threw out the bathwater of organized religion, but that didn’t work out too well for a lot of people.
See, creating your own value systems that have some level of integrity, takes, you know, effort and stuff. Trying to figure out what you believe, who you are, and what you actually stand for takes a lifetime and you can never be quite certain. Much easier to adopt the religions of today. The obvious one is politics. Notice how people discuss it with a religious fervor. This overlaps with the previous point, but let’s hammer it in. The people who disagree with them are not just people who disagree with them. They are blasphemers.
There are other religions people worship. One that’s concerning is this sort of free-for-all, simultaneously nihilistic and hedonistic religion of nothing. There are no values, no morals, no right or wrong ways to live, no rules. People need structure. And when they don’t have it, well, that lack of structure manifests itself in, let’s call them, interesting ways.
So what’s the answer? Don’t have a perfect one other than to figure out some sort of structure and belief system in your life that’s going to provide useful outcomes and preserve your sanity. If you look at many people in society, who haven’t filled the void the right way, they appear to be unwell. Something’s wrong there.
You worship something. Figure out whether or not it’s actually worth worshipping.
I watched a podcast the other day featuring Ben Shapiro and Russel Brand. Ben Shapiro is a staunch conservative and deeply religious orthodox Jew. Russel Brand is a former actor turned curious liberal spiritual guru philosopher of sorts.
Here are the things I noticed in the episode:
I don’t personally share one hundred percent of either of their views, but there were a few times during the show where I thought to myself “hm, I’ve never thought of it that way before.”
Brainwashed people can’t be moved a centimeter.
I’ve made the mistake of trying to have debates about hot-button topics on social media. Dumb, yes, I know, but I’m a bit of an intellectual masochist. I’d try to grant their points when I agreed with them, but they’d never do the same for me. They’d either deflect, twist my words, or just start calling me names.
A classic tell for someone who’s brainwashed, they’ll use the phrase ‘So you’re saying…’ and put words in your mouth that were nothing resembling what you actually said or meant. Forget about a conversation, they’re not even interested in a debate. In a real debate, you try to refute someone’s points. You don’t attack their character. You try to accurately represent their views and then refute them.
Again, no remedy for these people. I just feel the need to point out who they are.
As much as I try to wax poetically about how much of an independent thinker I am, I’m not. I’m not open-minded at all, totally biased. Many of my beliefs are guided by pre-established cultures I either found appealing or was born into — rugged individualism, capitalism, self-help culture, libertarian-type ideas, American superiority, and (at times) blind patriotism.
I’m brainwashed, but I’m not as brainwashed as those who don’t know they’re brainwashed. Brainwashed people believe they’re objective and rational. They speak to you as if the things they say are the laws of physics. They have an answer for everything and can’t say ‘I don’t know.’ They try to use ‘facts’ and ‘data’ to support their pre-established beliefs as signs of their objectivity. But facts and data can be spun to an insane degree.
I’ve noticed this in myself. I’ll tend to believe studies, articles, and data that confirm what I already believe to be true. Again, at least I try to have some level of self-awareness about it. It’s tricky. How can one even define self-awareness? How do you know if what you are aware of is really you? Anyway, the point is that you should never be too sure of what you believe.
Thomas Sowell put it well:
“It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.”
Smart people are most susceptible to brainwashing because they can come up with even fancier and elaborate reasons to confirm their confirmation bias. It’s fascinating to watch. It’s probably fascinating for you to see the ways I do it. It’s funny, as much as I’m trying to come off as impartial it’s impossible. Knowing this, though, is the key to attempting to fight it.
So what can you personally do about all of this? There is no perfect remedy and you can never quite be sure if you’re right. So stop trying to be right. Start trying to get it right. Start trying to be less wrong. Try as hard as you possibly can to not accept, but at least listen to and ponder views that disagree with yourself.
Measure the quality of your beliefs by the quality of your life. If you’re unhappy with your life, perhaps it’s because your belief systems led you astray. If your organizing principles for your life don’t lead to good outcomes, what’s the point of having them?
If five years from now, your views are exactly the same, something is wrong. If you find yourself blindly believing what you’re told without questioning it, something is wrong. Overall, if something about the entire structure of society and its narrative doesn’t smell a little bit fishy to you something’s definitely wrong.
Here’s the thing, the truly brainwashed people are on the fringes of society. But thanks to the minority rule, they dominate the discourse. Most people in society are pretty normal, but they’re letting the people on the fringes influence too much of their thinking. They can feel something is off. If you’ve made it this far, you probably can, too.
You have a few options. You can speak up and enter the battle of ideas. Or you can keep your mouth shut and try to properly navigate this precarious position society finds itself in. I like to do a bit of both.
No 10 steps to improve your life today. I’ll leave the decisions up to you.